William Knox D'Arcy was one of the principal founders of the oil and petrochemical industry in Persia and was a director of the newly founded Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) which would later become British Petroleum


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William Knox D'Arcy

Born on 11 October 1849 in Newton Abbot.
Died 1 May 1917 at Stanmore Hall in Stanmore.

William Knox D'Arcy, with his wife Nina, at home in Stanmore Hall.

William was born in Newton Abbot He is the son of an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family and attended Westminster School until 1866. In 1866 his family emigrated to Rockhampton in Australia. And William studied law at his fathers law firm and did quite well speculating in land and gold stocks. His first wife was Elena Birkbeck of Rockhampton

In 1882 he became a partner, with Walter Russell Hall and Thomas Skarratt Hall, in a syndicate with Thomas, Frederick and Edwin Morgan when they opened a mine on Ironstone Mountain (later renamed Mount Morgan), 24 miles (39 km) south of Rockhampton. There was a significant deposit at Mt Morgan. In October 1886, the syndicate became the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company, with D'Arcy a director and the largest shareholder. He held 125,000 shares in his own name and 233,000 in trust. At one stage the shares reached £17/1s/- each, making them worth more than £6 million (an amount equivalent to £566 million in present day terms.

His wife Elena died in 1897 and in 1899 he married Nina Boucicault (Nina was a first cousin of her namesake, Nina Boucicault, the celebrated Irish stage and film actress), who helped him entertain on a lavish scale. He had acquired a strong interest in horse-racing while in Australia, and maintained a private box at Epsom racecourse.

In 1900 he agreed to fund a search for oil and minerals in Persia headed by Wolff, Kitabgi and Cotte. Negotiations with theMozaffar al-Din Shah Qajar began in 1901 and with the offer of £20,000 for a sixty year concession to explore for oil was secured in May covering 480,000 square miles (1,200,000 km2). The concession stipulated that William D'Arcy would have the oil rights to the entire country except for five provinces in Northern Iran. In exchange the Iranian government was given 16% of the oil company's annual profits, an agreement that would haunt the Iranians up until the late 20th century. After the D'Arcy concession the British became much more concerned with the stability of Iran because of their reliance on the country's vast oil reserves. A drilling team under George B. Reynolds was sent to Persia and began to search. In 1903 a company was formed and D'Arcy had to spend over £500,000 to cover the costs. False hopes were raised in 1904 and D'Arcy was forced to find further financial support, with the Burmah Oil Company Ltd. agreeing to put up to £100,000 into the venture in return for much of the stock.

Drilling in southern Persia at Shardin continued until 1907 when the search was switched to in a place named "Maidan-i-Naftun". Drilling began at one site in January 1908 and at another nearby in March. By April with no success the venture was close to collapse and D'Arcy almost bankrupt, but on May 16 there were encouraging signs and on May 26 at 1,180 feet (360 m) they struck oil.

In 1889, with a substantial fortune, he and his family moved to Stanmore, he bought and lived in Stanmore Hall. He remained a director of the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Co. as chairman of its London board

In April 1909 D'Arcy was made a director of the newly founded Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) which would later become British Petroleum. By 1911 APOC had run a pipeline from the find to a refinery at Abadan.

The financial support given by Burmah Oil and the British Admiralty meant that D'Arcy could no longer put his name to the new company despite the best efforts of his wife, and ended up just a shareholder to the company.

Stanmore Hall, Wood Lane Stanmore
Stanmore Hall, Wood Lane Stanmore.

It was during his time at Stanmore Hall, he commissioned from William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones a suite of tapestries, 'The Quest of the Holy Grail' . He also owned paintings by Frank Dicksee and Frederick Goodall.

D'Arcy died on 1 May 1917 at Stanmore Hall. of broncho-pneumonia, survived by his wife and children. He was buried at Stanmore with Church of England rites. His estate of £984,000 was left almost entirely to his family.

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